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Actress influenced by father’s reading

Kate Burton

t. charles erickson

The daughter of Richard Burton, Kate Burton had no ordinary childhood, except like many other teenage girls she soaked up the Brontë sisters. “I loved Hermann Hesse too,” she says. Burton is well known for a series of major film and stage roles, along with appearances on hit television shows, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.’’ She stars in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” through April 6.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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BURTON: “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov. I was a Russian studies and history major at Brown University, but I hadn’t read that book or a couple of Dostoevsky’s. I thought it would be a great book to read before doing “The Seagull.” It’s a wonderful book, very magical, crazy, and funny. It reminds me of my other favorite Russian novel, “Petersburg” by Andrei Bely. Bely is not well known here, but any Russian would know who he is.

BOOKS: What are your favorite Russian novels?

BURTON: “Petersburg” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” though I love “War and Peace,’’ too. The very first Russian book I read was Maxim Gorky’s memoir, “My Childhood,” when I was in the eighth grade at the United Nations International School in New York City, where I learned to start speaking Russian.

BOOKS: Do you read mostly fiction?

BURTON: Yes. I read a lot of British fiction. I’m a British national so I’m drawn to it. I found Pat Barker’s trilogy, “Regeneration,” incredibly interesting. World War I affected Britain in such a profound way, and you really still feel it there. Another writer I love is Olivia Manning. She wrote “The Balkan Trilogy,” which is about World War II.

‘My father [actor Richard Burton] was an enormous reader. His diary, which was published last year, is almost a diary of his reading.’

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BOOKS: Does your Britishness influence you as a reader in any other way?

BURTON: Maybe if I weren’t British I would read more American literature. And the American literature I’m drawn to is not the really disturbing, dark edgy tale. I feel as if I deal with that too much in my work. Also it’s just not a British sensibility. I probably read more contemporary Irish literature then American contemporary literature. I’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland. That’s a place I’m very comfortable because I’m Welsh. We are connected. I like Colm Tóibín and John Banville.

BOOKS: What else do you like?

BURTON: I read a lot of mysteries too because those are easy. I like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Dick Francis. I love mysteries set in certain time periods. My father read mysteries too.

BOOKS: Was your father a big reader?

BURTON: My father was an enormous reader. His diary, which was published last year, is almost a diary of his reading. On every page he wrote what he was reading, his thoughts about it, what it meant to him. I’m not the reader my father was.

BOOKS: Was Elizabeth Taylor a reader?

BURTON: Not that I remember. Maybe more so when she was with my dad. That was a long time ago. Her kids would know more than me.

BOOKS: How would you describe your father’s taste?

BURTON: Completely across the board, from the Koran to Welsh poetry to mystery novels to great history books.

BOOKS: Do you read poetry?

BURTON: No.

BOOKS: Anything else you don’t read?

BURTON: I really don’t read theatrical biographies. I’ve only read two: “Year of the King” by Antony Sher and “My Life in Pieces” by Simon Callow. I loved them both. Emma Thompson wrote a diary that goes with her screenplay of “Sense and Sensibility.” It’s the most hilarious account of what it is like to make a movie.

BOOKS: What book will you bring to Boston?

BURTON: I recently started “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel because I’ve heard that it’s fantastic, and I have a project about Queen Elizabeth I coming up. I’ll be in Boston. In Boston, you have to be intellectual. Honestly, reading is tough for me in Los Angeles. We have no public transportation here. That’s my thing. I love to get on the subway or the T and read. That’s a beautiful thing about Boston. You look around the T and everyone is reading.

AMY SUTHERLAND

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